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Asia Collections

The Field Museum’s collections from East Asia reveal the threads of spirituality and technology, as well as of folk lore and everyday life, in the tapestry of Asian societies.  Famed for the biological diversity of its rapidly disappearing tropical forests, Southeast Asia also has a wealth of cultural diversity.

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The Field Museum’s collections from East Asia reveal the threads of spirituality and technology, as well as of folk lore and everyday life, in the tapestry of Asian societies.  Famed for the biological diversity of its rapidly disappearing tropical forests, Southeast Asia also has a wealth of cultural diversity. The Field Museum’s collections draw both from the mainland and from neighboring island nations in illuminating the drama and music, as well as the warfare and foraging, of the region’s peoples.

China Collection. This collection contains 23,500 archaeological, historical and ethnographic objects made between BC 10,000 and AD 1980. The collection is strong in textiles (3,000 plus), rubbings of stone inscriptions (5,000 plus), and utilitarian and decorative objects of the 18th to 20th centuries (ca. 10,000). Three quarters of the collection was acquired in China between 1908 and 1923 by Field Museum anthropologist Berthold Laufer. Well-known and often studied subcollections include some 400 stone and glass snuff bottles, 230 toggles, 130 rhinoceros horn cups, 500 puppets, 1,000 coins, 1,000 jade carvings, 1,500 folk embroideries, 30 early cast iron objects, 500 items of Daoist and Buddhist sculpture, 400 Han Dynasty ceramics, 230 pewter objects, and 300 pieces of equipment for pets, mostly pigeons and crickets.

Japan Collection. The 4,700 historical and ethnographic objects in the Museum's Japan collection were acquired as gifts to the Museum. Approximately 200 items were exhibited at the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition. In the early 1950s, Commander and Mrs. Gilbert Boone of Monmouth, Illinois acquired extensive collections in Japan and later donated them to the Museum. Their gift comprises one half of the current collection and includes 500 illustrated, woodblock-print books and 300 traditional paintings from the 18th to the 20th century. Gifts from other Chicago-area collectors include more than 1,000 Japanese sword furnishings (i.e., tsuba, fuchi-kashira, etc.) in the Gunsaulus collection, 200 lacquerware items (with many inro) in the Kroch and Leslie collections, and 300 Ainu objects.

Tibet Collection. This collection includes approximately 4,400 secular and religious objects that were acquired in China and eastern Tibet by Field Museum anthropologist Berthold Laufer in 1908-09. Nearly all date from the 17th through the 19th century. The highlights of this collection include more than 1,000 traditional Tibetan books, both printed and hand written woodblocks, 850 costumes and personal accessories, 800 ritual containers and images and 350 tangka paintings. These objects comprise one of the largest and best-provenanced Tibetan collections in the United States.

Indonesia-Malaysia Collection. The 6,400 objects in this collection include approximately 600 objects gathered from Malay hunter-gatherer (Orang Asli) groups, 700 textiles and textile-related items, 400 iron and steel weapons, 300 wayang drama items, and one of the finest sets of gamelan musical instruments outside of Java. Much of the Java subcollection was assembled in the 1880s. The objects from Sumatra, Borneo and the Malay Peninsula were collected in the 1920s, while the Sulawesi Toraja subcollection came to the Museum more recently. Objects were collected by Field Museum anthropologists Faye Cooper Cole, George Dorsey, Kathleen Adams and Robert Welsch; the English civil servants Ivor H. N. Evans and Alleyne Ireland; and the Dutch administrator E. E. W. G. Schroder. While the Field Museum collection may be smaller than similar collections in the Netherlands or Germany, it is one of the finest in the United States.

Philippines Collection. The Field Museum's Philippine collection includes more than 8,000 ethnographic-historical and more than 1,000 archaeological objects. Its collection of Luzon and Mindanao tribal material is considered to be the largest and finest in the world. Collected by Field Museum anthropologists Faye Cooper Cole, William Jones and S. C. Simms between 1907 and 1910, this well documented collection covers all facets of traditional Philippine culture. Many of the textiles in the 700-800 piece collection are unique and of considerable scholarly interest.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands Collection. The 400 specimens in this small collection were purchased in the field by the noted British anthropologist, A. R. Radcliffe-Brown and were illustrated in his book, The Andaman Islanders. This collection consists of wood, bamboo and rattan utilitarian and ritual objects reflecting the material culture of the Andamanese. This collection is the only one of its kind in the United States.


Image above: Detail of the gold Agusan Image discovered in 1917 near the Wawa River in the province of Agusan del Sur on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. Standing over five inches tall, this gold image can be seen in the Grainger Hall of Gems at the museum. Catalog Number 1404.109928. © The Field Museum, A114678_006Ad, Photographer John Weinstein.

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Collections

Seemingly fragile, textiles can be an enduring link to vanished cultures, as well as a fascinating cross section of the aesthetic sensibilities of far-flung contemporary peoples. Among the five most distinctive collections in the United States, The Field Museum’s holdings...
Berthold Laufer (1874-1934), curator of Asian Anthropology from 1908 to 1934, was a pioneer in the study of Asian cultures.  During his tenure at The Field Museum he made significant contributions to the collections of both Anthropology and the Library.
The Boone Collection consists of over 3,500 East Asian artifacts gathered by Commander Gilbert E. Boone and his wife Katharine Phelps Boone. The Boones acquired most of these objects in the late 1950s, during a three-year tour of duty in Japan. Consequently, the objects are...
For more than 1,500 years rubbings have been a vital medium for preserving China's art, culture, and history. These beautiful works are made by pressing thin sheets of wet paper into carvings or inscriptions cut in stone or other hard materials and carefully inking the...
The Field Museum has a collection of about 80 Javanese Masks from the World's Columbian Exposition 1893. The masks were worn by actors in traditional dance dramas known in the Indonesian language as wayang topeng. 
The Worcester Collection is an extremely important and untapped resource for the study of Philippine anthropology
The Carl Schuster collection of Chinese textiles is unique and by far the largest and most exclusive collection of early 20th century Chinese folk embroidery in the world. As an embroidery collection, it is exceptionally well documented.
For six short months in 1893, Jackson Park in Chicago was home to one of the largest and most spectacular expositions of the 19th Century. Near the close of the Fair, The Field Columbian Museum (now The Field Museum) was founded.